Why Harambee Stars have categorically decided to take a core of mostly U-23 players for upcoming COSAFA Cup

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Why Harambee Stars have categorically decided to take a core of mostly U-23 players for upcoming COSAFA Cup

Mark Kinyanjui 19:23 - 25.06.2024

Harambee Stars have intentionally decided to take a core of mostly U-23 players, including the likes of teenage sensations Aldrine Kibet and Amos Wanjala to the senior COSAFA tournament in South Africa.

On Tuesday morning, the Kenya national football team Harambee Stars flew out to South Africa to take part in the COSAFA Cup, which they were invited to participate in after Malawi withdrew two weeks ago.

They will be facing Zambia in their first match on Tuesday, 27th June, before facing Comoros three days later and then Zimbabwe on July 2nd.

Assistant coach Ken Odhiambo is the one who has been tasked with taking charge of the team, with both the technical team and management deciding to pick a team of mostly U-23 players.

Although that is a senior tournament, the think tanks saw it best to give the youngsters a chance to show what they can do at international level.

Four of the players in the squad were part of the U-20 set up that participated at the Malawi Four Nations Tournament last March, with another five being part of the CECAFA U-18 tourney.

Speaking to the media shortly after the squad was announced, Odhiambo explained that the selections were categorically made with an eye on testing their level and seeing if they will be able to handle the international set up in future.

“If you look, a side like Comoros has players that are mostly based in France,” Odhiambo said on Monday.

“For us, most of the players we are taking are from are youthful.Those are professionals. In football, it is about how you strategise and organise yourself that matters.

“We are going there as Kenyans with high spirits. After the U-23, the next set up is the senior team, so we want to see who can get into the next step, which is the senior team.

“I hope they will be able to perform at the biggest of stages, and we pray to God that we will be able to win.”

Taking young players is a calculated gamble, considering some of their opponents have decided to take some experienced players in the set up. Although there are a number of players in the Stars set up who are over 23, none of them are above 27, with keeper Bryne Omondi the oldest of the lot, and the likes of Rooney Onyango and Austin Odhiambo now in their mid-20s as well.

“It is a big risk but worth it because this is what we have been waiting for. The youngsters are hungry and want to show everyone what they are capable of. With God and with the planning we have had in the short time we have had, I am sure we will be okay.”

This is why the likes of Teddy Akumu, Brian Bwire and Johnstone Omurwa, who were named in the provisional squad, were left behind.

“They are overage. I decided to stick with the U-23 players.”

Odhiambo has also explained the vitalness of helping the younger players transition seamlessly from the age-group set ups to the U23 side.

“It is something that happens worldwide. Look at our education system. You move from kindergarten, all the way to primary, secondary and university. 

“Only rarely do you see kids make the jump to the highest level that quickly. It is a strategy we want to adopt and if we do, I am sure we will go places.”

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